THE MOYCULLEN PONYMEN From Working Ponies to International Stars.
To open this new book by Tom Mac Lochlainn, a former President of the Connemara Pony Breeders society, is to be immersed immediately in a long- vanished culture of old Irish lore and tradition. Storytelling, working methods and conditions, old photos and verse – all involving the family farm ponies and their owners – fill over 200 pages. The author quotes descriptions of the work ponies of the early nineteen hundreds as they were both worked and enjoyed by their small farmer-owners who loved to celebrate a wedding by racing their ponies to the bridal couple’s house after the ceremony, a tradition called “dragging home” which colourfully opens Chapter 1, vividly recording how both stamina and speed were valued in the working pony.
These ponies earned their living by daily hard labour, whether it was transporting people or cargo long distance (these ponymen were known as ‘carraeraí’) or saving and carting turf from the bog to sell in Galway, tracing hay from the meadow, manually reclaiming scrub, trees and rocks and turning overgrown scrub into rich pasture, back-breaking work for man and beast before machinery came on the scene.
The author identifies with individual neighbours and their lifestyle in the Moycullen area where he grew up and this recounting of a rural but close-knit society and their way of life is a fascinating read. As well as the culture of the working pony, customs, folklore and land history are seamlessly woven into a well researched narrative of breeding mares and stallions and their progeny up-to and including well-known performance progeny of the present day.
We also get an insider’s description of the pony owners’ personalities,skills and idiosyncrasies as Tom describes these well-known characters of his youth when he and his brothers regularly walked mares 8 or 10 miles to the chosen stallion, or moved ponies to outlying grazing or travelled to fairs across the high bogland to Spiddal or to Galway, “Tiring days of endless walking but also days of banter, devilment and roguery. Boys got the day off from school. Grown men took the day”
This book is partly bi-lingual as entire Irish spoken quotes are included with English translations. Irish phrases and sayings flow naturally throughout the discourse as we learn the original Irish for the ‘touch’ (twitch) as ‘stroimpín’or the term for a wanderer or ‘forever jumping-out pony’ as ‘bradach’, preserving for posterity words you would never have learned in your school Irish language course.!
His father Sean Mac Loclainn was a school-teacher and a consummate Connemara pony man. In the nineteen forties, fifties and through the sixties he bred, bought and sold many ponies (recording all transactions) and the family was immersed in pony-lore from an early age. Tom’s knowledge of bloodlines, conformation, and pony type is prodigal and today he is an experienced and well respected Connemara pony judge, inspector and ambassador for the Breed.
This work is clearly a labour of love and a valuable personal contribution, not only to Connemara pony lore, but to the continuing evolution of local history, manners and mores, of a former lifestyle in a Connemara parish. It is a treasure trove of factual information and local knowledge, which if left unrecorded, would surely have, slipped unnoticed through our fingers and would just as surely have been forgotten and lost within a generation.
For further information on buying this book – it is a “must-read” – go to www.ashbrookstud.ie
Photos © Niamh’s Weblog. www.marne.ie